When the Richmond Folk Festival returns on Oct. 11-13, the free music festival will be turning 15 years old.

Can you believe it?

“There was a time when many people questioned whether such a large-scale, free festival like this could be successful in Richmond for the long term,” said Lisa Sims, executive director of Venture Richmond, which produces the event. “But our community has nurtured this event in ways that even the most optimistic of us couldn’t have predicted 15 years ago.”

Every year, roughly 210,000 fans turn out to enjoy the three-day festival on Richmond’s riverfront.

The Richmond Folk Festival has announced the first 10 performers for this year’s event, which will draw on a diverse program of music traditions, from Tuareg guitar to Cajun.

Here are a few of the standouts:

BeauSoleil, a Grammy award-winning Cajun band from Louisiana, will return to the festival to perform its signature toe-stepping sound.

Dale Watson, a well-known honky tonk and country performer from Austin, Texas, will also return to the festival this year.

Music lovers are already buzzing about the appearance of Super Chikan, a Delta bluesman who plays juke-joint blues with his all-female backup band, the Fighting Cocks.

“He was a standout from the 2012 festival,” said Stephen Lecky, director of events at Venture Richmond. “If all goes right, we will be auctioning off one of his handmade guitars. These are one-of-a-kind pieces of folk art ... that can be played.”

There will also be throat-singers this year. Keep your eye out for Huun-Huu-Tu, a Russian group from the Republic of Tuva.

Some new traditions worth checking out include Bombino, a Tuareg guitarist from Niger near the Sahara who plays desert blues and has been called the “Sultan of Shred” by The New York Times.

Other performers announced in the first release include:

  • The Garifuna Collective from Belize, performing Garifuna, a type of Caribbean music;
  • The Iberi Choir from Georgia, known for Georgian polyphonic singing;
  • Irish step dancers Kevin Doyle & Friends;
  • Lonesome River Band, nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s album of the year last year; and
  • Panfilo’s Güera, a blend of Mexican-American fiddle from San Antonio.

Last year’s festival saw the biggest single-performance turnout ever for Mavis Staples, with 10,000 people in attendance.

The Richmond Folk Festival is free to attend but relies heavily on corporate sponsorships, private donations and volunteers to run the event.

The festival costs roughly $1.5 million to produce each year. Its volunteer “bucket brigade” raised $113,000 in donations from attendees last year.

Roughly 1,300 volunteers are needed to run the festival, which is currently looking for volunteers to sign up on its webpage.

Volunteers get free parking and are invited to the after-party, where musicians often break out into impromptu jam sessions. Volunteers who sign up in groups of four or more will also receive official merchandise.

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(804) 649-6151

Twitter: @collcurran

Colleen Curran covers arts and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She writes the weekly column Top Five Weekend Events.

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